Hearing and Brain Health

Hearing and Brain Health

Have you ever noticed how many people wear glasses? I have friends that will rotate between various frames and contact lenses depending on their mood or outfit of the day. Thick black frames to look studious, a fun color frame for a more whimsical look and contact lenses for date nights. According to the Vision Council of America, approximately 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction, and 64% of them wear eyeglasses.  I find it interesting that so many people with less than perfect vision are ready to put on bold eyeglasses but those with hearing loss severe enough to affect their daily conversations refuse to wear discreet hearing aids.

Currently the World Health Organization estimates there are about 35 million people living with dementia. There are also several studies published that show a link between untreated hearing loss and dementia. While other studies have found that early hearing aid use can lower or at least prolong the onset of dementia.

Research completed by Frank R. Lin, M.D., Ph.D. and colleagues at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution, found that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia. Furthermore they found that as the severity of the hearing loss increased so did their risk of dementia.   Essentially the study followed 639 individuals age 36-90 without dementia. Participants initially underwent cognitive and hearing testing between 1990 and 1994. They were then followed for the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease through May 31, 2008. Through repeated testing the study found participants with a hearing loss were at an increased risk of developing dementia. The study found a link between hearing loss and dementia. Specifically, they found that hearing loss resulted in exhaustion of cognitive reserve during conversations. This led to an aversion of social situations causing social isolation, resulting in the elimination of sensory nerve fibers in the brain.

On a more positive note, a study by Jamie Desjardins, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the speech-language pathology program at the University of Texas at El Paso found that hearing aids improve brain function in people with hearing loss. Desjardins studied a group of individuals between the ages of 50 and 60 with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss who had never worn hearing aids. The participants were given cognitive tests to measure working memory, selective attention, and processing speed abilities. These participants were then fit with hearing aids and after two weeks of hearing aid use the test revealed an increase in scores for recalling words in working memory and selective attention test. They also found the processing speed at which participants selected the correct response was faster.

Participants had exhibited significant improvement in their cognitive function with hearing aid use. Desjardins summed it up well in her study when she said “Think about somebody who is still working and they’re not wearing hearing aids and they are spending so much of their brainpower just trying to focus on listening. They may not be able to perform their job as well. Or if they can, they’re exhausted because they are working so much harder. They are more tired at the end of the day and it’s a lot more taxing. It affects their quality of life.”

Hearing loss does not have to affect your quality of life or your brain health. If you suspect you have hearing loss do not delay. Call an audiologist and schedule your hearing consult today. Your family, friends and your brain will thank you.

1. F. R. Lin, E. J. Metter, R. J. O’Brien, S. M. Resnick, A. B. Zonderman, L. Ferrucci. Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. Archives of Neurology, 2011; 68 (2): 214 DOI: 10.1001/archneurol.2010.362

2. University of Texas at El Paso. “Hearing aids improve memory, speech.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160128155757.htm.

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